Myla’s Reflections on a Rising China
Reflections on a Rising China
Before the holidays, I received a call from Cambridge Professor Alan Barrell inviting me to speak in Beijing before 1000 Chinese university students for Cambridge University Education without Borders.
The goals of CUEWB which aims to share educational resources worldwide and break the barriers between educational institutions, students and industrial organizations was close to the callings of GoNegosyo, and also close to my heart.
Professor Barrell who has spent 30 years in various areas of technology was one of the first recipients of The Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion. He asked me to speak about technology entrepreneurship in a developing country. His passion for entrepreneurship reminded me of GoNegosyo founder Joey Concepcion’s own.
A few days later, I also received a call that an invitation from the Chairman’s office of China Mobile was forthcoming, to attend their first Mobile Information Forum in Guangzhou on the same week. While I live partly in Hong Kong and my work in technology dictates traveling across oceans up to 10 times yearly, I have never had the opportunity to interact this closely in the mainland with young Chinese students. It was also expected that the China Mobile conference would be attended by 1,500 Chinese government officials, business executives and technology experts. I was happily China bound.
I thought long and hard about what to say to the students. The technology message was easy enough. It would not be lost on them that theirs is one of the hottest technology markets in the world. There are over 160 million internet users in China, and albeit small in relation to its population, the opportunities for the future are vast, with user growth registering a 23% increase yearly.
Earlier in November, local internet hero Jack Ma launched the most anticipated internet IPO since Google. His company, Alibaba.com’s value soared to 26 billion USD overnight exceeding the earnings multiples for Google more than fives times, at over 250 times earnings.
I wondered, however, what are the aspirations of the Chinese youth about to graduate and enter industry? Are they keenly aware of the international attention, responsibilities and expectations that lay ahead of them as future leaders of the oft-talked about Chinese Century? Will they have similar dreams as our students in Go Negosyo caravans? Will our messages be lost in translation?
I settled on the topic: From Silicon Valley to Home and Back to the Future recalling my own student days in the Valley and the great difficulties and joys of building a technology enterprise in a developing country like the Philippines. I talked of starting as a young woman fresh out of college, progressing to the international industry work of today, where mobile technology is headed, and about my fifth technology start-up, Novare, that is in fact beginning to serve some Chinese, Israeli, and European companies in the emerging field of fixed-mobile convergence.
All my concerns of connecting were quickly dispelled upon arriving at the National Library Hall. The auditorium was packed with students eager to learn and exchange ideas, and the energy was palpable. After nearly seven hours of discussions, there were nonstop questions from the students fielded to the various speakers and the professors from Cambridge. Many aspire to educate themselves further via master’s degrees if it can be afforded, and preferably in other countries. Most of the Cambridge Chinese students who co-organized the event were looking forward to coming back home to China to work.
Up to this month, I receive emails from them commenting on ideas discussed during the forum. I was asked to come and help inspire, but it was I who was inspired by the forward-looking, future leaders of our neighboring country.
Dinner that night was with a thoroughly modern urban couple. A lady friend who is a fast rising tech executive and her husband, a CEO of a major internet company invited me and my daughter Blanca to their home.
The traffic and pollution were also thoroughly Manila modern. There are after all 3 million cars in the core of the city of 10 million.
The Olympic fever was omnipresent, with English signs and billboards proudly signifying their readiness to be host in August of this year.
Upon arriving in the four- story townhouse, Blanca and I were quickly greeted at the door by their 5 year old daughter who said hello and Merry Christmas in fluent English, tutored this early on in the language. Our daughters exchanged Christmas cookies, a chocolate Santa and a tea set. A very gracious and beautiful couple, we spoke over traditional Chinese faire about the one child policy (they agree its best) and how they are very much happy with governance and where their country is headed.
Next stop was Guangzhou; formerly known as Canton, for the China Mobile (CMCC) forum.
To put in perspective the scale at which the telecommunications industry is growing in this country, China Mobile is now one of the most valuable companies in the world, with a capitalization of $360 Billion USD. (The most valuable company globally is also Chinese, in the recently listed PetroChina, making history as the first to hit a valuation of 1 trillion dollars on mainland bourses). The two largest state-owned mobile companies share an astounding 520 million subscribers, a penetration of 39.9% and a ways to go before connecting its1.3 Billion people.
The waiting room for the CMCC Chairman Wang Jianzhou’s guests was a testament to the drawing power of the event on Western thought leaders. Nicholas Negroponte of the One Laptop Per Child project and Chairman emeritus of MIT Media Labs, Jim Balsillie, CEO of RIM, makers of the iconic Blackberry, Chris Anderson author of international bestseller “The Long Tail” and editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine, Intel’s China hand and a friend Mr. Chris Thomas, a GSM Association delegation led by another friend Craig Ehrlich came in support of CMCC’s vision. On the China front were top government party leaders, educators and captains in the Banking, Technology and Manufacturing industries.
Showing its desire to stamp its own brand at technology leadership, we are now seeing rising Chinese global brands Haier (in consumer electronics and durable goods), Lenovo (the company which bought the PC business of IBM), Huawei, Sina.com, Baidu, and yes, ZTE. China Mobile has also indicated the launch of its own standard of 3G technology and next -generation mobile called TD-SCDMA (as versus global and American technology of Qualcomm, called W-CDMA). With a market that immense, just serving the local demands makes technology bets backed by government vastly sustainable.
Guangzhou is a very charming city. The placid waters and iridescent night lights of the Pearl River Delta viewed from my hotel window belied the fact that this is the fastest growing city, in the fastest growing province in the fastest growing economic power in the world today. But the pressures of the frenzied growth and industrialization are showing. The gap of incomes between the richer denizens of the coastal cities (and cities at large) and inland rural poor is widening. The Economist references officials stating that by 2020, about 60% of the population will be living in cities and towns, implying more than 200 million will be migrating from the countryside, further stressing urban infrastructures. The costs of supporting education and health care are growing. The costs of development to the environment are seasonally apparent in the air, to a first time visitor wondering whether the haze is smog or fog.
Finally back in Hong Kong, I realize that this is the first country I have lived in outside of the Philippines since my college days in the Valley, at the cusp of the Internet boom and its glory days. It calls to mind a current article in Foreign Affairs by John Ikenberry stating “The rise of China will undoubtedly be one of the great dramas of the twenty-first century”.
I do feel extremely fortunate to be here and experiencing yet the advent of another amazing story unfolding, differently, on its own terms, and uniquely China.
Myla Villanueva is a Go Negosyo advocate and PCE Trustee, founder of Novare Technologies, founder of the MDI Group, and Chairperson of the global Mobile Innovation Program and Member of the Executive Management Committee of the GSM Association. For comments write to [email protected]